Saturday, 10 April 2021

Simon & Simon, season one (1983-84)

Simon & Simon is a quirky private eye series that premiered on CBS in 1981. Its roots however go back further than that. The original pilot, Pirate’s Key, went to air in 1978. It was set in Florida. When the series was finally given the green light the setting was changed to San Diego. Apparently the pilot also has a very different kind of tone.

Simon & Simon was an immediate ratings disaster and after a single 13-episode season was on the verge of cancellation. It was saved by a change of time slot. A very clever change of time slot - it now followed the established private eye hit Magnum, P.I. and to cement the relationship in viewers’ minds a crossover episode was made. Simon & Simon now became a major hit (and Magnum, P.I.’s ratings were boosted as well).

There’s some similarity in tone between the two series. Both are slightly offbeat and both rely quite a bit on charm, style and wit. Magnum, P.I. skilfully combines these elements this with some occasional very dark subject matter. Simon & Simon is more consistently light-hearted but the idea that Magnum, P.I. fans would probably enjoy Simon & Simon was a pretty sound one.

As so often happened in American television the series gradually became, under network pressure, more and more conventional. That first season remains genuinely offbeat and incredibly entertaining.

Brothers Rick and A.J. Simon run a small private detective agency in San Diego, right cross the street from Myron Fowler’s huge Peerless Detective Agency. The Simon & Simon agency survives (just) because it offers the personal touch. And also they’re cheaper!

Their relationship with Myron Fowler is uneasy to say the least but this is basically a lighthearted series so that aspect is mostly played in a humorous way. Rick and A.J. do get along very well with Myron’s daughter Janet (Jeannie Wilson). She’s a lawyer and she helps them out a lot, much to Myron’s disgust.

The brothers (in the finest television tradition) make an ill-matched pair. A.J. looks like he could be an accountant and he has the sense of responsibility and the work ethic to match. Everything about him screams middle class. He dresses neat. He wears nice suits. He drives a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. He’s a bit of a yuppie. Rick by contrast is a good ole boy. While A.J. does the paperwork he watches sports on TV and drinks beer. He wears jeans. He looks disreputable and he’s totally irresponsible. He drives a pick-up truck.

Rick and A.J. squabble constantly but in fact they’re very close. It’s not just brotherly affection. Despite their differences they like one another. And they work together as a team because they trust each other. It’s a classic Odd Couple setup but it works because Gerald McRaney (as Rick) and Jameson Parker (as A.J.) have genuine charm and the scripts make the most of their relationship.

It was a series that had enormous potential. There have been plenty of series with enormous potential that were cancelled after a single season because in those days the networks had no patience with any series that was not an immediate hit. Simon & Simon just got very very lucky. It was given the opportunity to survive and viewers came to love the show enough to keep it going for eight seasons.

While Magnum, P.I. remains the great American private eye series of the 80s Simon & Simon runs it a pretty close second. Both series have a slightly offbeat feel but each has its own distinctive flavour. Thomas Magnum is the ultimate glamorous private eye even if his glamour is borrowed (he lives in a mansion he doesn’t own and drives a Ferrari he doesn’t own). He’s impossibly good-looking and sexy. The Simon brothers are totally unglamorous. They’re the kinds of guys nobody ever notices. They’re just ordinary.

No matter how appealing your lead characters might be you still need stories that will persuade people to start watching and keep them watching until the closing credits. The first season scripts consistently do this. There are always a few nice unexpected touches. Some of the stories are outrageous, but they never become merely silly.

The humour is good-natured. There’s no graphic violence. This is a feelgood series but it’s a smart quirky witty feelgood series.

I should also mention the great opening titles sequence and the opening theme tune, both of which were unfortunately changed to something more conventional for the second season.

Episode Guide

In Details at Eleven the brothers have to find a missing girl but finding her is just the start of their troubles. It’s what she’s running away from that matters. There’s a whole world of corruption to deal with. Political corruption and media corruption. Corrupt people who are very dangerous. They play for keeps.

In Love, Christy Rick is overjoyed when blonde bombshell college student Christy hires the brothers to get her stolen car back. Unfortunately Christy is the kind of blonde who gives blondes a bad name. She’s spoilt and rich and doesn’t care about her car. What she cares about is the biology test paper that’s in the car, the test paper she stole (Christy doesn’t see why she should have to study for tests because after all she’s blonde and rich). Getting the car back gets Rick and A.J. into all sorts of trouble with some very nasty criminal elements. Untrustworthy clients getting private eyes into trouble were a staple of private eye series but this episode handles the theme pretty well. It’s light-hearted fun and it works.

Trapdoors deals with computer crime, a new and exciting subject in 1981. A 13-year-old has hacked into the local bank’s computer. The kid, Terry, has an awesome computer setup in his bedroom. He has a dial-up connection. A real dial-up connection - you have to dial the number by hand on a telephone handset. There was no internet to connect to. Even bulletin board services were in their infancy. And he has a tape drive! If you’re of a certain age you’ll get a nostalgia blast from this episode. Terry hasn’t exactly been robbing the bank - he’s been borrowing money from other people’s accounts and collecting the interest. The bank hires the Simon brothers to catch the kid but of course the story is not as straightforward as it seems. As well as early 80s computers the story also involves role-playing games so there’s even more 80s nostalgia. And it’s a great story.

In A Recipe for Disaster a woman hires the Simon brothers when she thinks her estranged husband has kidnapped their daughter. But that’s not what happened at all. Sure Steve Gaines has his daughter with him down in Mexico where’s he’s working on an oil field. In fact Gaines in in trouble. A lot more people could be in trouble. A whole town full of people. It’s all to do with oil and money. Rick and A.J. will have to try to get both Gaines and his daughter out of that trouble. Lots of action in this one, and suspense, and humour as well (as the kid slowly drives A.J. and Rick insane). Rick also has a new gadget to play with. He loves gadgets. A very enjoyable episode.

In The Least Dangerous Game Rick and A.J. are hired by the zoo. There was an unfortunate incident there. One of the lions ate one of the keepers. That’s not good publicity for the zoo so the brothers’ job is to preserve the zoo’s good name by smearing the character of the keeper. Nothing about this case adds up. The Simon brothers re more and more suspicious but the solution to the mystery is weirder than they could have imagined. And Rick almost gets eaten by a bear. The Simon & Simon is pretty well established by now - clever scripts like this one combining humour and mystery with a few offbeat touches. A fine episode.

The Dead Letter File
presents the Simon brothers with an opportunity to make a name for themselves. The only thing is, the murder took place in 1959. If there was a murder. The trouble with a 23-year-old murder case is that everyone involved is dead. Everybody except the murderer. The case involves tacos and burgers, and disc jockeys. It’s a typical episode, which means it’s clever and amusing and charming. It’s good stuff.

In The Hottest Ticket in Town the trouble starts when Rick and A.J. agree to try to get tickets for the sold-out Rick Brewster concert for their cousin Dianne. They manage to get hold of not the three tickers that she asked for but 8,000 tickets. They’ve stumbled on a racket. They try to do the right thing but people keep misunderstanding their intentions and pointing guns at them and hitting them. It’s a fun and original kind of episode, the kind of slightly offbeat thing this series did so well. John Travolta’s older brother Joey plays rock star Rick Brewster.

Ashes to Ashes, and None Too Soon is a tangled tale of love and diamonds. The Simon brothers hate serving papers on people but private detectives have to eat. This time they have reason to doubt the identity of the man they served the papers on, and then there’s a corpse to deal with. And there’s a Fed to deal with as well. And a woman. Actually two women. It’s all delightfully complicated. A great episode.

The Uncivil Servant brings the brothers an unexpected and very reluctant client - Myron Fowler. There’s a serious security leak at the Peerless Detective Agency and it has to be investigated by an outsider. Nobody will talk. They’re all too scared. What kind of monster could reduce grown men to abject terror? Could it be the Mob? In fact it’s worse. It’s a man from the IRS. The IRS is no laughing matter but there is plenty of humour in this episode, much of it courtesy of Jerry Stiller as a discount furniture king who does his own TV commercials which are so awful that Rick just can’t stop watching them. It all turns out to be a tale of revenge long delayed. And it’s great fun.

In Earth to Stacey Rick thinks he’s been clever, poaching a client from right under Myron Fowler’s nose. But Stacey proves to be something of a nightmare client. She’s rich, spoilt and crazy. Her husband-to-be stood her up at the altar and she wants him found. Finding him is easy but after that things get complicated and Stacey gets crazier. It’s a typical Simon & Simon episode - clever and whimsical.

Double Entry
starts with a very routine surveillance case. A woman thinks her husband is cheating on her. The surveillance reveals that something quite different is going on. Then the husband gets kidnapped. It’s a pretty solid episode with some amusing interplay between the brothers and their client who seems to be enjoying the whole thing way too much.

In Matchmaker Rick and A.J. are offered a case by Vicky Whittaker. Whittaker works for an insurance company which wants to buy back stolen antiques from a burglary gang. The brothers have worked for Whittaker before and they know she’s totally untrustworthy and would double-cross her own mother but the money on offer is good. The burglary racket is worked from a computerised dating service so A.J. will have to date lots of beautiful women in order to find the one behind the racket. Dating beautiful women in the line of duty is just one of those unpleasant jobs a private eye has to do. The brothers still have a bad feeling that Whittaker os going to land them in trouble, and she does. It’s an amusing little episode with everybody having problems with love.

In Tanks for the Memories the Simon brothers are hired by their old high school teacher to find a former classmate of theirs, and they find themselves plunged into a world of survivalists, mercenaries and crazies. They’ve also stumbled into the middle of an FBI investigation. Lance LeGault plays a totally crazed mercenary leader and as you’d expect he has a great time chewing the scenery. There’s even a bit of A-Team style action. A fun ending to the season.

Final Thoughts

The first season of Simon & Simon is an example of a great TV series which, given a chance, was always eventually going to build a big audience. Luckily it was, against the odds, given that chance. This first season is just amazingly charming and enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Danger Man, the final season (1967)

By 1967 Danger Man (or Secret Agent as it was retitled in the US) had made Patrick McGoohan the highest paid actor on British television. McGoohan however was anxious to do something more ambitious and after only two episodes of the final season were shot he persuaded Lew Grade to allow him to make The Prisoner. There are many who believe that the character McGoohan played in The Prisoner was in fact John Drake, the hero of Danger Man, and that The Prisoner is a kind of surreal coda to Danger Man.

Those final two episodes, Koroshi and Shinda Shima, were the first to be shot in colour and both were set in Japan (and captured the Japanese flavour quite well with imaginative sets and judicious use of stock footage). I don’t think it was exactly an accident that Japan was chosen as a setting. At the time the final season of Danger Man was in production the fifth Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, was about to be released and of course it was set in Japan.

In fact, to make the most out of this amazing coincidence those final two episodes were spliced together into a feature-length film under the title Koroshi.

It’s important to remember that these two Danger Man episodes were filmed before You Only Live Twice was released so although the Bond movie influence is obvious they cannot really be accused of ripping off You Only Live Twice.

The Bond connection is interesting since John Drake is both very Bondian and is also at the same time a kind of anti-Bond (McGoohan in fact was offered the part of Bond but turned it down because as a conservative Catholic he considered it to be morally dubious). Drake is just as cool as Bond, but MGoohan insisted that the character should only resort to violence when it was absolutely necessary and also insisted that he should not jump into bed with any of the glamorous dangerous women he encountered.

Danger Man is therefore Bond without the gratuitous sex and violence and with a more cerebral feel and a bit more cynicism and moral ambiguity (there are times when Drake is very uncomfortable with the things he had to do). Both the original 1960 half-hour series and the later one-hour series (which lasted from 1964 to 1967) manage to be some of the most intelligent and enthralling spy television ever made. With the violence kept to a minimum the series has to rely on good writing and fortunately the scripts are generally excellent and often quite complex. And of course McGoohan’s considerable acting ability (and undoubted star power) helps a great deal.

Apart from the Japanese setting the 1967 season was clearly intended to be more overtly Bondian. Bringing in Peter Yates (later to establish himself as one of the greatest action movie directors of all time with movies like Robbery and Bullitt) as a director was a pretty strong indication of this.

The fact that McGoohan bailed out after just two episodes of the final season may be an indication that he disapproved of the Bond movie feel that had started to creep in although it’s also likely that he was simply desperately anxious to get started on The Prisoner. Quitting a hit series in this manner is the sort of thing an actor would not normally get away with but Lew Grade, the boss of ITC, had immense faith in McGoohan and when Lew Grade had faith in someone he was prepared to allow them an astonishing amount of leeway. When McGoohan later moved to America he would learn a bitter lesson - US networks were nowhere near as tolerant of such things as Lew Grade.

Obviously ITC had only a fraction of the budget that a Bond movie would have had but by the standards of 1960s television Danger Man was an expensive series and these two episodes boast some very impressive sets (secret underground headquarters and that sort of thing) and very high production values. They look very slick. And of course there are lots of gadgets.

Koroshi begins with a clever murder, of a Japanese girl in Tokyo. Ako Nakamura is (or rather was) an agent with M9, the British intelligence agency for which John Drake works. Her final message was crucially important and Drake is sent to Japan to find out what happened to her. He finds that her apartment is now occupied by an English girl named Rosemary. Maybe Rosemary can help him. Maybe he can trust Rosemary. Maybe.

She does lead him to Sanders (Ronald Howard), an Englishman with a deep knowledge of and love for Japanese culture. Sanders introduces Drake to the world of kabuki. Sanders is particularly fond of the koroshi or murder scene. He loves the poetry of death. Drake will very nearly experience the poetry of death, not once but twice.

The murder (and attempted murder) scenes are imaginatively and the fight among the kabuki costumes is especially good.

Drake has stumbled upon a very ancient Japanese equivalent of Murder Incorporated, suppressed centuries earlier but now apparently revived.

Shinda Shima opens with another Bond movie reference, this time to Thunderball, with an underwater action scene. Koroshi and Shinda Shima do not exactly constitute a two-part episode but they can be considered to be linked episodes although the link is not obvious at first. And Shinda Shima is even more Bondian than Koroshi.

Drake is on the trail of Edwards, a British electronic experiment who has sold out. He hasn’t sold out to the Soviets but to an international criminal organisation. They want Edwards to break a top-secret code for them. Drake poses as Edwards to infiltrate the organisation. This episode has a diabolical criminal mastermind and a beautiful dangerous woman (played by Yôko Tani who played a lot of similar rôles at this time).

There’s plenty of action and (by Danger Man standards) lots of fight scenes. Much of Shinda Shima takes place on the tiny island of that name (it means the Murdered Island). Just the sort of island an international criminal organisation would choose as its secret headquarters.

Watching these two episodes offers us a fascinating glimpse of what Danger Man might have become has McGoohan been prepared to finish the season. It seems likely that it would not have been to McGoohan’s tastes but it might have meant Danger Man breaking through in the US in a much bigger way, possibly even to the same extent that The Avengers broke through in the same year. 1967 might have been the year that British spy series cracked the US market wide open, offering the kinds of stylish thrills that American series such as Mission: Impossible were offering but with a distinctive British flavour. In retrospect maybe Lew Grade should have tried harder to persuade McGoohan to complete the final season of Danger Man. On the other hand the 1965-66 final black-and-white season of Danger Man probably provides a better lead-in to The Prisoner so perhaps McGoohan’s instincts were right. And McGoohan may have been right in not wanting John Drake to turn into James Bond.

So Koroshi and Shinda Shima remain as tantalising glimpses of a television might-have-been. And they’re pretty entertaining as well.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Star Trek - The City on the Edge of Forever (1967)

The City on the Edge of Forever is perhaps the most admired of all episodes of the original Star Trek series. It was episode 28 of the first season, was directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Harlan Ellison (although several other writers including Gene Roddenberry worked on the script). It first aired in the U.S. in April 1967.

The Enterprise has encountered a mysterious time displacement field and in a moment of confusion on the bridge Dr McCoy injects himself with a massive dose of a drug known to have drastic side-effects. And the side-effects are drastic indeed - he goes completely and homicidally crazy.

McCoy beams himself down onto the surface of a nearby planet. Kirk and Spock follow, and they find the source of the time displacement field - a time portal. MCoy hurls himself through the portal. Kirk and Spock again follow and find themselves on Earth, in the United States, in the midst of the Great Depression.

They need to get themselves some high technology to deal with their situation, which means Spock will have to build a computer from scratch using vacuum tubes and radio components.

They meet a girl. Not just any girl. This one is special. She’s special to Jim Kirk anyway. She is Edith Keeler (played by Joan Collins). Kirk is in love. Edith Keeler seems to have some mysterious connection to the time displacement field. She may in fact be the key to it. Which will live Kirk with a terrible choice to make.

This is such a well-known episode that you probably already know what happens but I’m not going to spoil it.

This is a story that grapples with the inherent problems of time travel such as time paradoxes and the possibility or impossibility of changing history. But there are moral complications, and emotional complications as well. The nature of these complications is revealed early because what matters is the way in which Kirk and Spock will respond to the dilemmas involved. The ideas would not have been startling to readers of science fiction in 1967 but they are more complex than you would generally expect in television science fiction of the era.

The moral and emotional quandaries involving love, death and duty are dealt with reasonably intelligenty. What I really liked is the avoidance of cheap sentimentality. That means that when the emotional punch comes it actually has more impact.

Harlan Ellison wrote the original script but major changes were made. Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana worked on it as did Roddenberry. Ellison wasn’t happy but it’s the sort of thing that happens in series television. Ideas that a writer thinks are great (and they may really be great ideas) are not necessarily going to work in the context of the series as a whole. Coon and Fontana were very good writers and they understood the Star Trek universe and they understood the characters. They retained Ellison’s core ideas but produced a script that worked as a Star Trek episode. The really surprising thing is that the end result is so very coherent and tightly structured.

One of the reasons it works is Joan Collins. Apart from being stunning she gives a nuanced performance. Edith is a likeable sympathetic character but she’s not perfect. She’s not quite a starry-eyed idealist but she makes decisions emotionally. Kirk is inclined to be driven by emotion as well but in his case it’s combined with a high sense of duty and an acceptance (albeit sometimes an unwilling acceptance) of reality.

Joan Collins and William Shatner make a wonderful romantic pairing. You know they’re made for each other.

For a casual Star Trek viewer the big surprise will be Shatner’s performance - it’s so controlled. Shatner is notorious for his overacting but when Shatner overacted he did so because he wanted to and he felt that the script called for it. When he felt that subtlety was required, as it is here, he would give a subtle performance.

This is a powerful moving story with some cool ideas. Is The City on the Edge of Forever really the best ever Star Trek episode? If it isn’t, it has to be damned close.

Some minor nitpicks. It’s supposed to be 1930. McCoy tells Edith he’s senior medical officer on the USS Enterprise. She naturally thinks he means the aircraft carrier. But the aircraft carrier Enterprise was not launched until 1936. Kirk is supposed to take Edith to see a Clark Gable movie, but in 1930 Clark Gable was a complete unknown.

The City on the Edge of Forever really is a must-see. If you've only ever seen the occasional Star Trek episode and you've never understood why it has such a cult following this episode just might convert you to the faith.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Thriller - Nightmare for a Nightingale, Dial a Deadly Number, Kill Two Birds (1976)

Brian Clemens’ celebrated Thriller anthology series ran from 1973 to 1976. 

The general consensus is that Thriller was starting to run out of steam by the sixth season. I thought the first couple of sixth season episodes, Sleepwalker and The Next Victim (which I reviewed here) were actually not too bad.

Here are three more season six episodes, which went to air in Britain in April and May of 1976.

Nightmare for a Nightingale

Nightmare for a Nightingale concerns opera singer Anna Cartell (Susan Flannery) who has a problem with her husband. He died eleven years earlier but now he’s back and he has blackmail on his mind. Tony Risanti (Keith Baxter) was a failed singer and a failed gambler and also a failed husband and his failure to stay dead is very awkward since Anna is about to remarry. She’s going to marry a fast-rising American politician, Hal Bridie (Stuart Damon from The Champions). The scandal that Tony threatens to cause could destroy Hal’s career.

What’s really annoying about Tony is that killing him never seems to do any good. He keeps dying and he keeps coming back. Anna is starting to go to pieces because she may have been responsible for one of his deaths. Her crackup is a problem for her devoted agent Sam (Sydney Tafler) and her publicist Giles (Ronald Leigh-Hunt), especially because she won’t tell anyone why she is cracking up.

The carnations are the last straw. Tony always sent her carnations. He’s still sending them.

Anna has no idea what is going on and the script does a reasonably good job of keeping the audience guessing as well. There are several plausible possibilities. We’re also not quite sure just how serious Anna’s mental state is.

Susan Flannery is quite adequate as Anna.

Stuart Damon (always an underrated actor) is very good as Hal, who really seems like the sort of guy Anna needs. And maybe he is. Being an American means Damon doesn’t have to bother with a fake American accent or exaggerated American mannerisms. Damon was quite capable of flamboyant acting if that’s what a particular rôle called for but here he goes for an effectively low-key performance. We’re pretty sure Hal is a nice guy but this is Thriller so of course we can’t be sure - we can’t be sure about any of the characters.

Sydney Tafler is excellent. Tafler was another underrated actor who could handle serious or comic rôles with equal facility. He plays Sam as a bit of a protective father figure. Ronald Leigh-Hunt does a good job as the cynical GiIes, a man who sees Anna as nothing more than a source of money.

Keith Baxter tries a bit too hard as Tony. Tony certainly comes across as sleazy and malevolent but a bit too much like a cheap hood from a gangster movie.

There’s plenty of paranoia, there are hints of madness and there’s some genuine menace.

It’s not one of the great Thriller episodes but it’s acceptable entertainment.

Dial a Deadly Number

Dave Adams (Gary Collins) is an out-of-work flat broke American actor who just cannot admit that his career is going nowhere. He is running out of people from whom to borrow money. Then fate intervenes. He gets a telephone call. It’s a wrong number but it could be his lucky break. The caller is a woman who was trying to reach a psychiatrist. Helen Curry (Gemma Jones) is having terrifying dreams and thinks she’s losing her mind.

Dave decides to take a chance. He pretends to be the psychiatrist and he goes to see the woman. She is obviously rich. To Dave it is obvious that she’s just spoilt and a bit neurotic. Posing as the psychiatrist (and telling her that she’s going to need lots of consultations) means he could be on to a goldmine. And since she’s obviously just spoilt and neurotic it’s not like he’s going to be doing any real harm.

And posing as a psychiatrist is kind of fun. It’s like an acting job.

What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out.

Initially everything goes smoothly. Dave does some quick reading up on the subject and figures there’s nothing to this psychiatry lark. It’s just so easy. And Helen actually seems to grow a bit calmer. As a bonus there’s Helen’s sister Ann who lives with her and Dave takes the opportunity to do some romancing of Ann.

Then Dave notices the hat. And starts to wonder. But he’s grown over-confident and there’s so much money to be made from fleecing Helen. He can’t just walk away from a goldmine.

The problem with this episode is that what’s really going on is very obvious. Brian Clemens wrote some great TV scripts but he wrote some lazy scripts as well, scripts that are just recyclings of old ideas without any flashes of originality. This is one of his weakest efforts.

On the plus side it’s very well executed. Even though we know what’s coming director Ian Fordyce still builds the suspense quite effectively. The secret to effective suspense is that it doesn’t matter if the audience knows exactly what’s coming next - that can even enhance the suspense if the director knows what he’s doing. Of course it helps if there are a few surprises along the way and sadly that isn’t the case here.

Thriller was made for ITC and Lew Grade was obsessed by the idea that every series had to have American actors. In this case it works satisfactorily since Gary Collins is absolutely perfect as the charming conman Dave. Gemma Jones gives off all the right crazy person vibes.

And there’s plenty of creepiness.

So overall it’s a lame screenplay that is to some extent redeemed by a good director and good acting. It is however a sign that Brian Clemens was starting to run seriously short on ideas.

Kill Two Birds

Charlie Draper has just been released from prison and he’s pretty happy since he has the proceeds of his last robbery safely stashed away. He’s now a rich man. His happiness is however short-lived. A particularly vicious gangster named Gadder wants that money. Gadder has already killed one of Charlie’s old buddies and he doesn’t care how many more people he has to kill to get that money. Gadder likes hurting people and he likes killing people and his goons like hurting people as well.

Charlie is on the run from Gadder and the only place he can think of where he might be safe is with his brother Sammy. Sammy runs a gas station and diner in Dorset. This is where two passing American tourists, Sally and Tracy, get mixed up in the story. Along with Sammy and his wife and a drifter named Farrow they’re held hostage by Gadder and his goons who are waiting for Charlie to show up.

The police have a pretty fair idea that someone is after Charlie and they have a few leads but the question is whether Gadder will get to Charlie before the police can.

The most noteworthy thing about this episode is the cast. There’s a pre-stardom Bob Hoskins as Sammy. There’s Susan Hampshire as Sally. She was a very very big star on British television at the time and while she’s best known for costume dramas she appeared in a number of productions of interest to cult TV fans such as the very good 1962 science fiction series The Andromeda Breakthrough and the science fiction TV movie Baffled (in which she co-starred with Leonard Nimoy). There’s Dudley Sutton as Gadder. Sutton made quite a career at this time playing memorable psychopathic heavies. And there’s Gabrielle Drake from UFO as Tracy. David Daker is very good as Charlie but it’s the performance of Dudley Sutton that really stands out.

As I mentioned earlier it was customary for Thriller episodes to have at least one American star. For this episode there must have been no Americans available so somebody came up with the bright idea of having Susan Hampshire and Gabrielle Drake play Americans! Miss Hampshire keeps her American accent low-key but Miss Drake goes totally over-the-top. There is absolutely zero reason for them to be playing Americans and both actresses would have been a lot more relaxed and a lot more effective just playing Englishwomen from London taking a holiday in the country.

This is a straightforward crime thriller, with some touches of the violence and sadism that was starting to become a feature of British cop shows at this time (this episode went to air in 1976). The tone of this episode is rather reminiscent of The Sweeney, but with slower pacing, less action and a lot more suspense. The twist at the end is clever and it’s also the sort of thing that you’d expect in The Sweeney.

It’s not at all a typical Thriller episode (this is a series that very rarely dealt with professional criminals) but with a very good Brian Clemens script this time and fine direction from Robert Tronson Kill Two Birds surprisingly works very well indeed. It’s hard-edged and very suspenseful and has a nice sting in the tail.

Final Thoughts

Season six is obviously turning out to be wildly uneven. Nightmare for a Nightingale is pretty good, Dial a Deadly Number is a misfire and Kill Two Birds is excellent.

Monday, 1 March 2021

The Halo Highway (The Invaders TV tie-in novel)

Rafe Bernard’s The Halo Highway is a 1967 TV tie-in novel based on the classic 1967-68 science fiction TV series The Invaders. The Halo Highway was the British title - the novel was also published in the US under the title Army of the Undead. It was one of eight novels based on this superb TV series.

The Invaders was one of the classic alien invasion series. On a lonely road late at night a young architect named David Vincent sees a flying saucer land. He knows that the Earth is being invaded but of course no-one will believe him. He gives up his job and devotes all his time and energy to gathering evidence that will convince the government that aliens have invaded. Just like Fox Mulder in The X-Files many years later Vincent frequently has the evidence he needs but somehow it is snatched away from him or it turns out to be too ambiguous or too fantastic to be believable. In the first season he’s a lone crusader although over the course of time and many battles with the aliens he does acquire an informal network of people who do believe him (in the second season he becomes the leader of a much more organised resistance group). It’s paranoia television at its best.

In this novel the aliens, for complicated reasons, are infiltrating the American automobile industry. They do this by arranging fatal accidents for people and then taking over their bodies. A late night telephone call from a distraught widow alerts David Vincent to the fact that something sinister is happening in Auto City.

Vincent has his usual problem - the aliens have taken on human form and to an ordinary observer they are indistinguishable from normal humans. David Vincent is however not an ordinary observer and long experience has taught him to notice the subtle clues that betray the fact that someone is an alien. The aliens are almost perfect simulacra of humans, but never quite perfect.

He quickly discovers that there are indeed a lot of aliens in the Carasel auto company and there have been an astonishing number of car accidents in the area in the recent past. Accidents which should have been fatal but weren’t. There are very few people in Auto City that Vincent can trust, but there are a few. Or at least there are a few he thinks he can trust. He’s not sure if he can foil the plans of the aliens but he intends to try.

One of the things that makes TV tie-in novels both frustrating and fascinating is that they had to be rushed out in order to be in the bookstores while the TV series on which they were based were still running. This meant that the authors in many cases had not actually had the chance to see a single episode of the series - in some cases they hadn’t even seen a final script. They based the books on what they’d been told about the series. The books often have a different tone compared to the series and there are often other significant differences since they were often based on the original concept of the series rather than on the series as they actually turned out to be when they were actually shot.

This is very evident in the case of The Halo Highway. The tone of paranoia is the same. The David Vincent of the novel is pretty similar to the TV version of David Vincent and he has the same obsessive determination. So far so good. But the way the aliens work in the novel is not at all the way they work in the TV series. It seems clear that Rafe Bernard had been given a very rough outline of the premise of the series and then added lots of ideas of his own. The idea of the aliens taking over dead people is actually more reminiscent of the way the Mysterons operate in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (the other great 1960s alien invasion TV series which first went to air at almost the same time as The Invaders.

Bernard has also added other elements of his own and taken ideas which which were perhaps hinted at in the series and developed them in totally different and much more extravagant ways. He’s given the aliens extraordinary powers of mental telepathy and shape-shifting abilities. He’s added a complex array of paranormal and even New Age elements - the aliens feed off mental energies and control other aliens though these mental energies. The aliens have a zombie-like quality to them.

So as a TV tie-in novel this has to be described as a bit of a failure. It has a feel that is very different from that of the TV series. On the other hand Bernard’s original ideas are quite clever and interesting. Judged as a standalone science fiction novel it’s quite intriguing. Fans of the TV series may be bitterly disappointed by the fact that the novel only bears a superficial resemblance to the series but fans may also be fascinated to see the basic framework of the series developed in such radically different ways.

You could almost describe this book as a TV tie-in novel for an alternative version of The Invaders that was never made.

If you’re looking for a novel that sticks faithfully to the premises of the TV series then you’ll want to give this one a miss. On the other hand if you’re intrigued by the idea of an author coming up with his own variation on the theme of the series you might decide it’s worth checking out - Rafe Bernard’s take on The Invaders is in its own way quite interesting.

To sum up, possibly worth a look with some significant caveats.

I’ve reviewed both season one and season two of the TV series.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

The F.B.I. season 2 volume 1

The F.B.I. returned for a second season in late 1966 (there would eventually be no less than nine seasons). At this stage the key cast members - Efrem Zimbalist Jr as Inspector Lewis Erskine, Stephen Brooks as Special Agent Jim Rhodes and Philip Abbott as Deputy Director Arthur Ward - were unchanged.

I’ve been watching a number of American cop/private eye series of this era recently. It was very much the Heroic Age for those genres. While the criminals sometimes offer some degree of psychological complexity the heroes are very much straightforward heroes with no hints of moral ambiguity. Authority, whether represented by the police or the F.B.I. or the government, is never questioned. At the beginning of each episode we are assured that the Bureau is there to fight the enemies of the US Government and we are naturally expected to assume that the US Government’s enemies are the enemies of all decent people. In 1966 it was reasonable to assume that contemporary audiences would accept this unironically.  Perhaps it was their tragedy that they accepted authority without question, and perhaps it’s our tragedy that we are unable to do so.

Which sounds like I’m being snarky about this series. In fact it’s sophisticated, polished and very professional. It’s very good television indeed, with fine scripts and fine acting. It’s simply made with certain assumptions that audiences today will find slightly difficult to accept, and which would in fact be increasingly questioned even a decade later.

Lewis Erskine is by no means a two-dimensional character. He’s decent and honest and honourable but he’s rather complicated. He’s a very driven man, a man with certain obsessions and a man who has largely sacrificed his personal life for the sake of his career. He doesn’t complain about this. He Iikes his job and believes it is worthwhile and important but at times you get the feeling that he’s not a guy who is going to cope very well when retirement times comes around. He might perhaps be just a little too dedicated and single-minded. But he doesn’t qualify as a flawed hero of the type that would become commonplace in the 70s, and he also doesn’t qualify as an eccentric hero (in the way that 70s cops like McCloud, Kojak and Columbo are to varying degrees and in different ways eccentric heroes). Erskine is very much a regular guy. The most unconventional thing about him is that he’s so very conventional.

I feel a little bit sorry for Stephen Brooks. I like his understated performance as Jim Rhodes and Rhodes is the perfect foil for Erskine. However there was just no way Brooks could compete with Efrem Zimbalist Jr’s star power and charisma so inevitably Jim Rhodes became a sidekick rather than a partner and in the second season he was more often than not relegated to the background. It’s no great surprise that Brooks departed the series at the end of this season.

Quinn Martin’s productions tended to be a bit more character-driven than other American heroes of that era. While the heroes of The F.B.I. are conventional heroes and while there’s  a definite sense that there is such a thing as right and wrong there is at times a genuine attempt to examine the psychology of the criminals (and even the spies) and even the psychology of the victims. This is not a series that accepts the there can be any excuses for crimes or espionage but at least there’s an awareness that people do things for a reason.

If you’ve been avoiding this series because it sounds like it might be a bit too old-fashioned with a bit too much in the way of simplistic Cold war politics and a perhaps way too much glamorisation of the F.B.I. then my advice is to think again. It’s an intelligent grown-up series and the scripts really are extraordinarily good (and consistently so). And Efrem Zimbalist Jr really is a joy to watch. In his own distinctive way he has amazing amounts of charisma and Lew Erskine is a great character.

The first couple of seasons have been released in half-season sets but they were longish seasons (twenty-nine episodes in the second season) - the season 2 part 1 set includes sixteen of those episodes.

Episode Guide

The Price of Death is a kidnapping story and this series includes a lot of those. They somehow always manage to make them interesting, with at least a couple of twists. And of course as always it’s remarkably well-executed with some very fine acting by the supporting cast.

The Escape starts with a spectacular and deadly shoot-out as a prisoner, Larry Drake, escapes from custody at a small airport. The Drakes are quite a family. Three brothers, plus the older brother's wife. And they’re not exactly one big happy family. Which may be a help to the F.B.I. but it makes the situation much more dangerous and much more volatile. A very good episode.

The Assassin starts with the killing of a police officer in Manila. Before he does he reveals sketchy details of a plot to assassinate well-known peace activist Bishop John Atwood. The hunt is now on but it’s a double hunt, with shadowy assassin Anton Christopher stalking the bishop while being stalked in turn by the F.B.I. and both Lewis Erskine and Christopher are accustomed to being successful hunters. An otherwise routine story is enlivened a couple of interesting character studies. William Windom is excellent as the cynical but world-weary assassin who feels that his career is nearing its close. The bishop is stubborn, arrogant, egotistical and generally insufferable and he’s actually a less human and less sympathetic character than his would-be killer. Tom Skerritt as Christopher’s political zealot assistant and Rhys Williams as the bishop’s trusted friend who has his own agenda add further interest and make this a fine episode.

The Cave-In deals with sabotage at a mine in New Mexico. The mine was about to close, until a new vein of tungsten was discovered. Since tungsten is of vital strategic important the F.B.I. is called in. Naturally they suspect commies but that doesn’t seem to fit. The sabotage was too amateurish. A second act of sabotage triggers a cave-in and half a dozen miners, along with Social Agent Jim Rhodes, are trapped. Solving the case is pretty easy but the real focus is on the attempts to rescue the trapped men. A decent episode.

Vendetta is a spy story. This time it’s not just commies the Bureau is after but Nazis as well. In fact it’s Nazi commies. A suspected war criminal apparently commits suicide but an Israeli investigator doesn’t believe he’s really dead, and that he’s now a communist agent. Spy stories often deal with themes of betrayal but this one focuses on guilt (both appropriate and inappropriate) and fanaticism (of at least three different kinds). An interesting if not entirely successful episode.

In Anatomy of a Prison Break Erskine goes undercover as a con in a federal prison to try to foil a big prison break. The guy behind the plan is a real genius. He’s so smart he’s currently serving a lengthy sentence for his last brilliant plan. He may not be as clever as he thinks he is but he is ruthless. He killed the last inmate he suspected of being a stool pigeon. Erskine can probably derail his plans, if he lives long enough. This is great stuff.

In The Contaminator a communist spy accidentally sets off a nuclear reaction at a research facility. It’s a really really tiny nuclear reaction but it’s enough to contaminate everybody in the room, including the spy. This is a fine manhunt episode with some great wilderness location shooting with the nuclear contamination problem adding some spice.

The Camel's Nose is a surprisingly sordid tale of corruption and defence contracts, and murder. It starts with a plane crash that was no accident. And Deputy Director Arthur Ward has a personal involvement in the case which could prove awkward. Of course in this series there can never be a hint of corruption within the government (and we get some speeches assuring us that the F.B.I. especially is utterly incorruptible) but big business corruption was a different matter. Not a bad story.

With The Scourge we’re in organised crime territory. The Mob is using juicers (loan sharks who charge astronomical interest rates) to gain control of legitimate companies. One such company is Towner Industries but the head of the company is too scared to testify against Johnny Albin, the juicer in question. Erskine and Rhodes think there may be another way to get the evidence they need. Another very good episode.

In The Plague Merchant a biochemist indulges in a little harmless industrial espionage, stealing samples of a new hand lotion. Only it’s not hand lotion, it’s a killer bacteria that could kill millions. The script goes to great lengths to convince us that of course it wasn’t developed for bacterial warfare (there are lots of peaceful uses for killer bacteria that could kill millions), but other wicked nations (never the United States) might use it for that purpose. It’s another story featuring a villain who isn’t villainous, just naïve and mostly sympathetic. Quite a good episode.

Ordeal starts with a robbery but it’s no ordinary robbery. What was stolen is not nitro-glycerine, which would be bad enough, but a new experimental form of nitro-glycerine which is even more unstable than the regular kind. It’s destined to be used in a revolution in South America. Carl Munger is finished with driving that kind of stuff but he’s out of work and his wife is pregnant and he needs the money real bad so he’s driving it to the coast. And Jim Rhodes his long for the ride. It’s dangerous enough in ideal conditions but everything that could go wrong, everything that could jolt that nitro into exploding, does go wrong. This episode is obviously inspired by the classic 1953 French suspense thriller The Wages of Fear and it’s tense exciting stuff. A very good episode.

In List for a Firing Squad communist spies are at it again. A Hungarian agent, Istvan Sladek,  has obtained a list of the names of American spies in eastern Europe and the F.B.I. has to get the list back. This is a surprisingly nuanced episode. Even Erskine admits that from Sladek’s point of view he’s a patriot serving his country and a brave man, just as Erskine is. And the F.B.I. puts Sladek’s girlfriend in a ghastly position of conflicting loyalties. There are different kinds of betrayal. Is it worse to betray your country or to betray love? A disturbing and intelligent story.

The Death Wind is a tale of danger on the high seas. And possible even greater dangers elsewhere. An ageing tramp steamer bound for Port Spencer in Hawaii hits a World War 2 mine and sinks. In the mid-60s wartime mines still caused such problems occasionally. There are however some complications in regard to that mine, and the ship’s cargo causes even more concern. Quite a clever little story.

The Raid is a siege story with multiple hostages. A dying informant alerts the Bureau to the presence in Los Angeles of Scott Martin, a bank robber on the Ten Most wanted list. Martin and is gang are holed up in a motel in the suburbs. Lots of tension in this one with the complication of a girl who may be a hostage or an accomplice and a boy who is definitely a hostage. Amazing amounts of gunplay in this episode. The drive-in scene is very good. Great episode.

Passage into Fear is a spy thriller set on a train, always a winning idea. And it works pretty well here. A witness in an espionage case has panicked and run and both the F.B.I. and the members for the spy ring are after her. Plenty of excitement and suspense in this story, and Erskine is put in as difficult moral position. Very good stuff.

Final Thoughts

The F.B.I. offers clever literate scripts involving people who have believable motivations for the things they do, whether they’re right or wrong. This is intelligent sophisticated entertainment mixed with plenty of entertainment value. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Hawaii Five-O season 3 (1972)

The most surprising thing about the third season of Hawaii Five-O, which screened on CBS in 1970-71, is that there is absolutely no sign of any drop-off in quality. The second season had been marginally better than the first and by season 3 everything was humming along nicely.

The four key cast members are unchanged. My feeling is that James MacArthur (as Danno) and Zulu (as Kono Kalakaua) in particular were growing steadily more comfortable and more confident.

Hawaii Five-O works for the same reason Mannix works. Both CBS series had charismatic lead actors. Both boasted high production values with a fair bit of location shooting. Both were extremely slick and very professional productions. Both combined action and glamour and both were fast-moving. They look expensive. In both cases the scripts were generally very strong. Both featured terrific guest stars. With those ingredients success was pretty much guaranteed. They were representative of a type of television that the Americans were remarkably good at making at that time.

Steve McGarrett and Joe Mannix also have a great deal in common. They take their jobs seriously, to the point that they have no time for a family life. They are very good at their jobs. And they are both hyper-masculine heroes. They’re so supremely comfortable in their masculinity that they have no qualms about revealing their sensitive sides. They are the absolute antithesis of the anti-heroes and flawed heroes who were increasingly featured in movies in the late 60s and early 70s. These are heroes in whom the viewer can have complete confidence.

As the 70s progressed American crime series would feature more oddball heroes (Frank Cannon, Columbo, Sam McCloud, Kojak) and flawed heroes (Jim Rockford). Hawaii Five-O and Mannix can be seen as the last hurrah for the old-fashioned all-American hero.

Hawaii Five-O is also interesting for the light it sheds on the stresses caused by rapid development. Hawaii had grown wealthy due to tourism but the native Hawaiians were losing their traditional way of life and some were not sure if it was worth it, particularly since they weren’t necessarily the ones getting seriously rich. Hawaii had become, to an extent, a troubled paradise. Hawaii was also getting some of the other dubious benefits of progress, such as organised crime and the drug culture. The series has a considerable amount of sympathy for those who were sceptical of the benefits of progress. Hawaii Five-O tackled social issues quite often and mostly tried to be fairly balanced.

One thing I really like about this series is that when Five-O are trying to trace a telephone call we actually get to see how it’s done, and in one episode we get to see the ingenious ways in which criminals can thwart such attempts. In fact the series is quite good at showing details of forensic stuff. It’s that kind of attention to detail that gives the series a realistic feel, even when some of the plots are quite outrageous.

Hawaii Five-O is also a series that occasionally veers into spy thriller territory, or into stories that deal with international intrigue or power politics. This gives it a distinctive feel among cop shows of the era.

Episode Guide

And a Time to Die… kicks off season three. Starting the season with a Wo Fat spy thriller episode is a pretty sound idea.  This time the Red Chinese master spy is trying to stop a CIA agent from revealing China’s nuclear secrets. The plan to assassinate the agent almost succeeded and he’s now in a coma in hospital.

The challenge for Wo Fat is to find a way to kill the agent with seems impossible since the entire wing of the hospital is sealed off. But Wo Fat has a plan to force the neurosurgeon to do the job for him.

Wo Fat is of course a wonderfully entertaining character. What’s interesting is that he’s not a two-dimensional villain. He believes the survival of his country is at stake so ruthless measures are justified. And we do see a human side of the Chinese master spy in his story. Wo Fat is also, in his own way, an honourable man. If he makes a promise he will keep it. The local CIA station chief is every bit as ruthless as Wo Fat and arguably less honourable. This is not the only Hawaii Five-O episode to take a slightly sceptical view of the CIA and other intelligence agencies and it’s obvious that McGarrett does not altogether trust spies, of any country.

In Trouble in Mind there’s a bad batch of heroin on the island. A really bad batch, cut with arsenic. McGarrett thinks that Michael Martin, pianist for popular jazz singer Eadie Jordan, might be involved. The fact that Martin slugged Kono when Kono tried to search his car adds weight to that suspicion. The truth is more complicated but McGarrett doesn’t want to see it. TV series that try to look sympathetically at social problems usually fall flat on the faces but this one works because it doesn’t pull its punches.

The Second Shot has a great opening pre-credits sequence. It establishes that something pretty bizarre is happening, wth a man apparently setting himself up as the target for an assassin’s bullet. We have no idea what’s behind it but we’re immediately interested. The plot of this episode certainly lives up to the promise of that pre-credits sequence. It’s a deliciously devious political thriller story. An excellent episode.

In Time and Memories McGarrett meets an old flame but she looks more and more like the obvious suspect in her husband’s murder. This is a good murder mystery plot with a rather neat solution plus we get some glimpses into McGarrett’s private life. Good episode.

The Ransom is yet another kidnapping story but there’s a twist. In trying to rescue the boy who’s been snatched Kono gets kidnapped as well. Which as you can imagine makes McGarrett pretty mad. Another good story with plenty of tension.

Force of Waves is a real misfire. McGarrett is nearly killed when a boat blows up. A rich businessman who has just dumped his wife for a younger prettier model is killed in the explosion. There are multiple suspects but the solution manages to both obvious and ludicrously far-fetched.

The Reunion of the title is a reunion of World War 2 veterans. Someone is threatening the life of a Japanese businessman and it seems that three of those WW2 veterans could be suspects and the roots of this case may go back to 1943. If the story of the veterans is true, which it may not be. Not a bad episode although the ending is not going to surprise anyone despite some heroic efforts at misdirection.

The Late John Louisiana takes Five-O to Maui where a hoodlum who works for gangster Harry Qon has been killed and a young couple have vanished. Is it part of a gang war? Is it connected to the murder of another gangster, John Louisiana? This one is quite complicated tale but it’s a clever story of love and betrayal.

The Last Eden is occasionally in danger of getting preachy but fortunately that element is kept reasonably well in check. A sewerage plant is blown up and a Hawaiian singer (and part-time ecological activist) is the prime suspect. But there’s just too much evidence pointing to Jimmy (the singer) - McGarrett doesn’t trust cases when they seem to have been made too easy for him. Not a great episode.

Over Fifty? Steal is unusual for Hawaii Five-O, being a whimsical mostly comic episode. A daring but oddly considerate elderly jewel thief leads McGarrett and his men on a merry chase and even McGarrett can’t help admiring him. A very enjoyable story.

Beautiful Screamer makes use of a device, having one of the detectives personally involved in a case, which I think is usually a mistake. Two young women are murdered. There’s a link between them but that link can’t possibly provide a plausible motive. So what could the real motive be? The plot does include some reasonably clever touches and the alibis are very clever. All in all a reasonably good episode.

In The Payoff a falling out among thieves might lead to murder, possibly even several murders. But all Five-O have to go on is the shooting of an anonymous drunk at a sleazy rooming house. It’s going to be a matter of slowly and methodically putting the pieces together. There’s no room for brilliant leaps of intuition in this story, but just patient thorough routine police work. But it’s also an exciting race against time. A good episode.

In The Double Wall a prisoner named Ritchie is badly injured and before dying makes a deathbed confession to another prisoner, Harry Kellem. That confession would have cleared Kellem of the murder for which he is serving a life sentence, but no-one else head the confession. Kellem goes crazy, takes a shotgun away from a guard and holds the prison doctor hostage. He insists that McGarrett reopen the case or he’ll kill the doctor. McGarrett figures there is a chance that Kellem is innocent but he has only hours to prove it. Lots of race-against-time tension in this one with the added bonus that McGarrett has no way of knowing just how much time he’s got. All he knows is that he hasn’t got long. Not overly original but well executed.

Paniolo is a cowboy story. Frank Kuakua is a cowpoke down on his luck. A shady land developer is trying to force him to sell his cattle ranch. Frank would rather die than give up his ranch, and sadly it may come to that. One man is dead already. And yes, back in 1970 there were cattle ranches in Hawaii. This one is on Maui. While it doesn’t have a particularly strong plot this episode does have quite a few things going for it. There’s some spectacular location shooting on Maui (which is great because most episodes of this series are set on Oahu). And to get his man McGarrett will have to saddle up his horse (literally) and get together a posse (literally). That’s enough to make this a pretty interesting episode.

Ten Thousand Diamonds and a Heart is an elaborate heist story. Old-time gangster Willard Lennox bust Sheldon Orwell out of prison. Orwell speciality is masterminding spectacular robberies. McGarrret knows Orwell is going to be planning a big score but he has no way of knowing what the target will be. All he has to go on is some cigar ash and some marble dust. While Orwell lays his plans for and rehearses his big robbery McGarrett patiently sets about trying to out-fox him. A terrific episode.

To Kill or Be Killed is one of a number of episodes dealing directly or indirectly with the Vietnam War and it takes a surprisingly strong anti-war stance. It begins with a mystery. A young man, not long returned from the war, falls from the balcony of an apartment to his death. Or was he pushed? There is certainly evidence suggesting foul play. What puzzles McGarrett is what was going on in the next door apartment. As in several other episodes McGarrett clashes with the military authorities. This is also a family drama. It’s a highly emotional episode but without ever feeling manipulative or sentimental. A very very good episode.

F.O.B. Honolulu is a two-parter, and it’s a Wo Fat episode which is even better. A Marine corporal arrives in Honolulu on a flight from Saigon, for R&R leave. He brings with him a souvenir - a Buddha. He is murdered and the Buddha is stolen. But he was no Marine corporal. And what did that Buddha contain? This is not just a spy story - there are lots and lots of spies in this one, all sorts of spies. And a plot that may endanger the entire Free World! The target is - the US dollar. And all those spies are in competition and trying to double-cross each other. Including a beautiful but deadly lady spy. An excellent episode with plenty of twists (and a great deal of mayhem).

In The Gunrunner arms dealer Ben Cunningham’s wife is kidnapped in a commando-stye raid. Cunningham kills one of the kidnappers. Cunningham is a legal arms dealer but since the dead kidnapper was a foreign national from a country in which separatists are planning an armed rebellion McGarrett can’t help suspecting that Cunningham is being pressured into supplying arms to the rebels. So this is an international intrigue rather than a straight crime episode. This blending of crime and espionage elements is one of the things that made Hawaii Five-O such an interesting and unusual series. A good episode.

Dear Enemy opens with small-time conman Ray Tobias just off the boat from Australia who meets with an unfortunate accident. He’d been a witness in a big murder trial a year earlier in which senatorial candidate Fred Whiting was convicted of murdering his mistress. Mrs Whiting claims Tobias had evidence that would force the case to be re-opened. McGarrett isn’t convinced but he is interested. And he gets more interested. A reasonable episode although motive is the weak link in the story.

The Bomber and Mrs. Moroney is a siege episode. A guy is paroled from prison and sets off to Five-O headquarters, wth a stack of dynamite, to see Danny Williams. Danny isn’t there but the guy takes a bunch of hostages, including Chin Ho. It’s a bad situation - there’s no way for Five-O to get in without blowing everyone up and the explosives are connected to a timer. Time is running out. Among the hostages is Mrs Moroney, a very feisty old lady who isn’t scared of hooligans with guns. Plenty of tension in this very good episode.

The Grandstand Play is a two-parter. A woman is murdered at a ball game. Gary Phillips, the son of baseball legend Lon Phillips, was seen in the vicinity. Gary is 17 and good-natured but he’s slow. McGarrett doesn’t think Gary killed the woman but he does think Gary saw something and is too frightened to talk. But someone else knows Gary may have seen something. Five-O will need to find Gary before that person finds him. The problem here is that there’s not enough plot to justify a two-parter and it’s all a bit too predictable. A disappointing end to an otherwise very strong season.

Final Thoughts

The third season of Hawaii Five-O is polished quality entertainment. A hit series at its peak. Highly recommended.